Welcome back to my chat with Andy Liddell. Yesterday’s post, which you can access by clicking here, discussed the Bradford City game, what it was like at the start of the Premier League season, and how he had actually requested to leave the club during that summer.
Part two of our interview gets in to the cup run, that infamous game against Liverpool, and Danny Wilson’s decision to leave the club, as well as a little about Barnsley in modern times.
Enough of me wittering on though, you aren’t here to read this, you’re here to hear from our former star, ladies and gentlemen, Andy Liddell.
Dan: As the promotion squad was such a tight-knit bunch, and it was really a team, rather than star individuals, in your eyes, do you think Danny should have spent the money on English players that might have fit in better?
Andy: “I think Danny would probably say yes to this question himself, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially in football. It’s very difficult being a football manager, and Danny probably looked all over England, but the thing about shopping at home is you get quoted ridiculous prices, and then when you look abroad you can pick up international players for less money. The thing is, none of the players that we brought in were mugs, they were all international players, but it’s a culture shock for them. Adapting to the pace of the football is hard enough, never mind having to integrate into a new country, and a team where everyone knows each other well. They didn’t really work out as successfully as they would have hoped, or as Danny and Eric would have wanted, but I wouldn’t blame them for that, it’s just a matter of circumstances.
Yes Ashley and Darren came and did really well, but they knew the English league. The foreign lads were coming in to a league that they had no experience with, and they were used to international football which was, and still is, a lot different than the Premier League. The game’s much faster in England than it is internationally, and they just weren’t ready for it. They needed a period to acclimatise, but you don’t get that in football, especially not under the cameras of the Premier League. You’re judged on instant results and instant performances, which was unfortunate for them. They were all nice lads, they tried to integrate, but some struggled with the language, and Georgi put his foot right in it, but it was difficult for them.
To answer your question though, no, probably not. He probably tried to bring in English lads, but the prices will have been over the top. I know that Darren and Ashley both came in at reasonable prices, but that’s probably a case of it being two out of two hundred that he tried to bring in. Being on the other side of the game now, I see how hard managers work to sign players, and it can be really frustrating for them, and I’m sure that Danny became frustrated with the English transfer market and felt that he had to go abroad to get any kind of value for money.
The incident that stands out featuring yourself during that season is Gary Neville’s ‘tackle’ at Old Trafford. What do you remember about that day?
“The cup game? Everyone could see that it was a blatant penalty. Gary Neville knew it was too, as when we jogged back to the halfway like I said to him: ‘You know as well as I do that was a penalty, I don’t believe that hasn’t been given’, and he just laughed and said: ‘What can I do? It hasn’t been given, so there’s not a lot of choice. I tried to get the ball, got you, and got away with it.’ That’s just how it goes. Even Alex Ferguson admitted that the referee had made a mistake, and I think it did get blown all out of proportion, with people talking about it in Parliament and such, but justice was done in the end. It was just a football incident, admittedly quite a big one, but that’s always the case with Manchester United. Everything gets blown up bigger than it is.
Justice was done with us knocking them out in the replay, and we deserved to, but if the penalty had been given, Redders would have probably slotted it away, because he didn’t miss many, and we’d have done it on the day. Saying that, I’m sure some fans are happy that we didn’t get it as they all got to see us knock them out of the cup at home instead, which was far better surely?”
Did you think at any point that it could have been our year in the cup?
“Yeah, I did actually. We’d knocked some good teams out and built up a bit of momentum. I’m sure nobody fancied playing us and we gave Newcastle a really good game, but if the referee had done his job properly, we would have probably finished a bit closer than we actually did to them, that was another occasion where an official made a cock up. I did think that it could have been us though. We’d built up some steam, knocked out good teams, but it wasn’t to be. That’s still the furthest that I ever got in the FA Cup, and it was a really good, enjoyable run.”
While we’re talking about referees again, I realise that you didn’t come on until the second half, but what are your memories of the Liverpool game at Oakwell (and Gary Willard)?
“That day… It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that on a football pitch, and I’ve never seen it since. The referee just walking off the field because the atmosphere was intimidating, I thought that’s what fans and players were meant to try and create at a home ground. It was just bizarre, the whole day was bizarre. He was sending players off willy nilly, for nothing really, well, apart from Darren (Sheridan), he did punch someone in the face so he was always going, but the others were rubbish decisions.
It was bizarre. The noise was incredible, and we’d pulled it back to 2-2 with nine men and we had a chance, if I remember rightly, to draw level again at the end. If we’d done that with nine men, it would have been the result of the season.
But, again, it was bizarre. I remember the referee walking off the pitch, looking over at him and thinking: ‘where’s he going?’ I’ve never seen anything like it since.
It was a great game to play in, don’t get me wrong, it was end to end and there was incident after incident, and it was probably a great game to watch, but what the referee was doing or thinking on that day, only he could tell you. I know the fans were raging about it, and there were conspiracy theories and such flying around, but I genuinely just feel that he wasn’t up to doing his job, and afterwards, when you sit down in the cold light of day, you fell a little bit of sympathy for him. His mental state, to do what he did that day, must have been pretty fragile, and he crumbled underneath it. Different people, players and officials, have different levels of mental strength, and he obviously couldn’t cope with what was happening.”
Some Barnsley fans have suggested that defeat to Liverpool really knocked the stuffing out of us, and if we hadn’t of lost in the manner that we did, we may have got more points out of the final part of the season and stayed up. Would you agree?
“No, I don’t think it knocked the stuffing out of the players. Listen, we finished where we finished because that’s what we deserved. As a group we just weren’t strong enough to stay in the Premier League. We had some players that could cope with that division, and we had some that didn’t, and there’s no disgrace in that. We had a lot of players that were excellent in the division below, a lot, but we got into the top flight and as a group we just couldn’t handle it. Things like the Liverpool game didn’t help, of course they didn’t, but I wouldn’t say that it was when we all thought ‘oh god, what’s happened to us? We’re going down…’ It wasn’t that at all, we all still tried our hardest, but at the end of the day we just weren’t quite good enough. That’s not a crime, it’s just a fact.”
After we went down, what was your reaction to Danny Wilson leaving? Were the players shocked, or did you have an idea about what might be happening?
“I was totally shocked, I had no idea. We had all come back from the close season, a couple of players had left, a couple had signed, and it really came as a shock.
The pull of Sheffield Wednesday for him was quite big, and you can see why, but it didn’t really work out for him as he would have liked. Obviously, the fans were in uproar about it, but speaking for myself, I had no idea that it was going to happen.
He did what he did, and then John took over, but no, I had no idea that he was going to do that.”
Was John a popular choice among the players? How did you react to his appointment?
“That was an even bigger shock! John had no experience of being a manager and he’d no experience coaching… Obviously he was a popular figure among the fans, and the players liked him, but it came as a real surprise.
Unfortunately, as the job went on, I felt a bit sorry for John. I’ve never had a conversation with him about it, but it looked like he wasn’t enjoying himself. Obviously, there is a lot of pressure on managers, and having been thrown in at the deep end somewhat, I did feel sorry for him. He’d been put in the situation, but to be fair if they’d asked any of the senior players if they wanted to take over they would have probably jumped on it, as we had a good team, and it was a good club, we had the parachute payments and a few quid in the bank, but it just seemed to be put on him and, well he lost his job in the end, but the pressure seemed to get to him…
It was a big surprise though, yeah. I’ll always remember it, we were sat in the stadium and the chairman said to us: “Here’s the new manager…” And in walked John, and we all just sat around going, ‘Okay, where… That’s John…’
I think any of the players will tell you the same, it was a huge shock.”
If you could look back on the season as a whole, and change one thing about it, what would it be?
“From a purely selfish perspective, it would be that I started more games. I think I started maybe 15 or 16, and I got to go to some magnificent stadiums to play some top teams, but I’d loved to have started more.
From a group point of view, that we’d stayed up. You stay up that first year, the club builds, you can attract better players, the ones that you have improve… Just staying up in the best league in the world would have been invaluable.”
Of all the players that you played alongside up front for Barnsley, who did you think you struck up the best partnership with?
“I really liked playing alongside Ashley when I had the opportunity, because he was a really great player and worked really hard for the team. He suited my game when we played together. He held the ball up really well, and knocked a lot of balls on for me to run on to. So I would say it would be Ashley. He really was a Premier League player was Ashley. You can see that throughout his career, and he was a fantastic signing for Danny.
I really enjoyed playing with Paul Wilkinson too, we had a good partnership going, and I scored a lot of goals while I was up top with Paul, but I’d probably just say Ashley. When you look at his career, he played most of it in the top flight, he went for a lot of money, and scored a lot of goals, so it would have to be him.”
Do you think that, with the way that football is changing, a team like Barnsley could ever make it back to the top flight?
“I’d never say never to anything in football, as I’ve seen some things that would make your eyes curl, so I wouldn’t say no, but it would be as big an achievement as us getting promoted back then.
The budget that Barnsley have got compared to the rest of the Championship is miniscule, but they’ve got a fantastic young manager there in Keith, with some good young players in there, but, at the moment, with the finances available, staying in the Championship is a massive achievement. They’re battling against teams that are spending millions on players, and paying them wages that you wouldn’t believe, so to do it again would be incredible. Unless, of course, some big money man comes in, spends a fortune and buys the success.
I’d never say never, but it would be very difficult for them to get out of this league.”
And, finally, if the chance even arose, would you go back to Barnsley, in one capacity or the other?
“I’d love to roll back the years and go back to play for them, yeah. The job I have now is great, and I’m really enjoying it, but no-one can predict the future, so you never know. Especially in this business, people lose their jobs for nothing and it’s crackers really. You’ve got to be a certain kind of character to survive in it, but I would never say never, but more than anything I’d like to take the time back and go back to play for them.”
And with that, all I can do is thank Andy for taking the time to talk to me, and for everything that he did in his time at Barnsley. I’m sure each and every Barnsley fan wishes him all the best in his future career, and if you want to keep up to date with what he’s doing, go follow him on Twitter – @Lidds7.
Be sure to check back to the blog soon, there are more interviews on the way, as well as build up to the Middlesbrough game, including a chat with one of our former heroes, who happened to play for them too…